Monday, December 22, 2008

Drinking Unseasonably: Tasty Alternatives to Sauvignon Blanc

As much as I believe in the practice of eating seasonally, I find the idea of drinking in the same manner far less appealing. Sure, I tend to steer away from heavy hitting reds on sweltering summer nights, but I never lose the hankering for light and lively whites, not even in the icy depths of winter. Following are notes on just such a pair, whites that many might find to be summer sippers rather than winter warmers but that I found to be just what the doctor ordered – brisk, invigorating and matched to what was on my dinner table. They’re also both great alternatives for those that are hooked on Sauvignon Blanc but are looking for a new rose.

Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne “Reserve Selection – Cuvée Gros Manseng,” Domaine des Cassagnoles (Janine & Gilles Baumann) 2007
$11. 13% alcohol. Screwcap. Importer: Weygandt-Metzler, Unionville, PA
Domaine des Cassagnoles consistently produces some of the best values in white wine from Southwest France. Their “normal” Vin de Pays des Côtes de Gascogne, a blend of Colombard, Sauvignon and Ugni Blanc, can still be found for around nine bucks a bottle. For about two dollars more, though, you can have this, their “Reserve Selection,” a varietal expression of Gros Manseng.

Though it lacks the sauvage character and underlying complexity of the best whites made at least in part from Gros Manseng in AOCs such as Irouléguy and Jurançon, this is still juice to take seriously. Snappy and visceral, it delivers flavors of golden raisins and orange oil with a cardamom tinged finish. Minerality and medium-high acidity add both balance and structure enough to marry well with anything from sheep’s milk cheeses to roasted fish to herb-crusted white meat dishes.

Mittelrhein Bacharacher Rivaner trocken, Ratzenberger 2007
$14.50. 13% alcohol. Nomacorc. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
The great British wine writer Jancis Robinson is at her smarmy and pointed best when writing about Müller-Thurgau, which she describes as a “decidedly mediocre but gruesomely popular German crossing developed in 1882 for entirely expedient reasons by a Dr. Hermann Müller, born in the Swiss canton of Thurgau…”. Robinson cites Müller-Thurgau as a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner, or perhaps Riesling and another clone of Riesling. More recent research suggests it’s actually the result of a crossing between Riesling and Chasselas. In any event, one goal among many was to produce a vine that would grow and ripen in spots where Riesling would not. That, at least, is Jochen Ratzenberger’s raison d’être for growing Müller-Thurgau. He prefers to call it Rivaner, one of several synonyms for M-T, believing the name to carry fewer negative connotations. It may be a moot point here, as neither Müller-Thurgau nor Rivaner are household varieties on the US wine market.

Planting Rivaner on the lower slopes and flatter portions of his property, Ratzenberger is able to utilize land that might otherwise lay fallow. Farming those vines to low, healthy yields enables him to produce a wine that, though simple, bucks the stereotype of flabby, industrial Müller-Thurgau and might even appeal to Ms. Robinson. Soft on the front-palate and explosively floral on the nose, this brims with yellow peach and white apple fruit. Its acid profile is much softer than the Riesling grown further up the hill, and there’s much less of a terroir imprint – none of the distinctly pungent minerality that’s found in Ratzenberger’s Rieslings. But served cold, when its herbal finish is refreshing rather than vegetal (which it can become if served too warm), it’s a pleasure to drink, whether alone or alongside light fish, vegetable and poultry dishes.


Do Bianchi said...

I don't really have anything intelligent to say about this post except for I dig your blog!

Happy holidays and looking forward to reading you in 09!

Blog on, brother! j (aka do bianchi)

David McDuff said...

Happy holidays to you as well, Jeremy, and thanks for digging my work. Your kind words are always much appreciated.

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